Nowhere on earth are the forces of nature more evident than in Iceland where the colours and textures of the geothermal landscape are a photographer’s dream. Snow-covered mountains, glaciers, craters, beautiful rock formations, lava fields and spectacular waterfalls dominate the landscape.
In July 2006 I was lucky enough to travel to Iceland, staying in the south of the island for a few days before exploring the Snaefell Peninsula and the islands of Breidafjordur with their basalt columns of rock, rich in bird life including kittiwakes, fulmars,guillemots, cormorants and puffins. Travelling further north east to Akureyri and the Myvatn Lake area, we walked the lava fields before crossing the centre of the island in between glaciers, even walking on the Myrdalsjokull glacier before ending our journey in Reykjavik!
Iceland sits on the mid-Atlantic ridge between the Eurasian and North American plates with fissures running south west to north east. The lava fields continue to grow as numerous volcanoes spew new material from deep within the earth. The fissures are most evident at Pingvollur where parliament was established in the year 930 and where Christianity was accepted as the national religion in 999.
Volcanic and geothermal features include fumaroles, geysers, mud pots, craters and igneous plugs and solfataras! A solfatara is a volcanic vent emitting only gases, primarily acidic gases such as sulphur dioxide and hydrochloric acid. Solfataras are often characterised by the sulphur encrusted earth with its yellow-orange colour and boiling mud. 95% of all Icelandic homes are heated by geothermal power. All the world’s spouting hot springs were named after the great geyser which first began erupting in the fourteenth century. Eruptions are caused when boiling water deep in the spring,trapped by cooler water on the surface, explodes and spews out everything above it.
Here at Gulfoss the White River drops a total of 32 metres in two falls into a deep canyon below.
The beautiful and wispy falls at Seljalandsfoss are one of Icelands most photographed waterfalls!
Godafoss is the waterfall of the Gods. This romantic name was bestowed when the carvings of the Norse Gods were tossed into the waterfall to signify the end of paganism and the acceptance of Christianity.
These are the Faxi Falls with adjacent salmon ladder!!
This huge waterfall is Skogafoss!
12% of Iceland is covered in four icecaps. The 700 sq km glacier Myrdalsjokull rises to 1480m and reaches a thickness of over 1000 m. The surface of the glacier is covered in black volcanic ash as the insidious 1250m high volcano , Katla, snoozes beneath.
The cliffs that gird the coastline of Iceland are overcrowded with birds harmoniously making their nests! Arctic terns nest on the ground, bombarding visitors aggressively! The Breidafjordur Islands are quite spectacular, a maze of mostly flat, rocky islets with their basalt columns and pancake rocks strewn with nests and eggs!
Iceland’s economy depends heavily on fishing with two million tons of cod, monkfish and haddock caught every year under a strict quota system. We watched the fishermen unload their day’s catch at Arnastapi.
Even the shark hasn’t escaped being caught for hundreds of years! They are buried underground for six weeks and then hung for four weeks in order to putrefy them, as sharks have no kidneys to get rid of toxins. We visited Hildebrund at the Bjarnarhofn Museum on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, who prepares shark meat, and he picked me out to be the first of our group to try it! It was disgusting!! Very slimy and tasting of ammonia!! It is packaged and widely sold – called Hakari!
The Little Black Church looked after by Hildebrund!
A visit to Iceland wouldn’t be complete without riding one of the amazing Icelandic horses, still used today in the autumn sheep round up and for recreation! This horse has five gaits, instead of the usual four, the fifth being a running walk, which is so smooth, the rider scarcely notices any motion! We were assured that they were slow and gentle, but we discovered the running walk was rather faster than we anticipated, so had great fun navigating through the rocky streams that criss-crossed the valley! A fantastic experience! My horse was called Toten and fellow traveller Dotty’s was Bjork!!
Our trip ended in Reykjavik, the capital, (this means “Smokey Bay” the name given by the first Norwegian settlers in 870). We visited The Pearl, a restaurant perched above hot water tanks overlooking the city.
(The horses weren’t really there, just superimposed – as were the flowers!!)
Of course, we just had to have a dip in the Blue Lagoon at Grindavik before heading home! The lagoon is actually a pale blue pool of effluent from the Svartsengi Power Plant ~(fuelled by sea water which has been heated after seeping below the lava). Blue-green algae thrives in the water that emerges from the pipes , but as the water cools in the air, the algae die , leaving a sort of organic soup with an average temperature of 37 degrees and 2.5% salt content! The chemical content of the silica mud combined with dead algae has been know to cure or relieve psoriasis and its curative powers have been sanctioned by the Icelandic Surgeon General! Blue Lagoon skin-care products are available in the shop at quite a cost! The bottom of the lagoon is lined with chalky rocks and slimy white silica mud – not pleasant, but one of those things you have to do when in Iceland!
Yes, Iceland truly is a photographer’s dream!